tilbrook's 1994 tour diary part 2
I have never been much of a one for writing graffiti on the walls of dressing rooms. Even in the early years, the only time I can remember doing it was at the Marquee, a rather unambitious “Squeeze” in felt tip, on the night Paul Weller accused us – wrongly – of nicking one of the Jam’s mike stands. By the time you reach the larger venues, you’ve lost interest – and perhaps the ability. Your basic clubs and pubs, though, which I’m playing on this tour, are the natural habitat for the graffiti artiste. And, I can reveal, someone has got it in for Evan Dando of the Lemonheads in language not suitable for a family newspaper. I find I’m tempted again.
This tour has started to seem like a sequence from The Glenn Miller Story: there’s a shot from a low angle of a train racing by, overlaid with a page-a-day calendar whose pages are flying off, fading to a cheering crowd with hats flying in the air and zooming on to town names that are gone just as quickly as they come – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Stoke, Leicester, Northampton, Portsmouth. But here in week three, small things are starting to irritate me. Why is the maid cleaning the rooms in my corridor playing Radio 2 at a volume more suited to a rave? Does nobody in Stoke-on-Rent ever want a service wash in the launderette on a Saturday? Am I becoming a grumpy old git?
Sound check is very brief – 15 minutes maximum, easy peasy. The highlight of the day is, of course, the gig itself. I will do any requests within reason, so long as I know at least one verse and chorus. This has led to my doing “Like a Virgin” in Northampton, but refusing “Smoke on the Water” in Portsmouth. There are limits, I’m sure you’d agree. A wag in Liverpool shouted out for “I was Kaiser Bill’s Batman”, which I was more than happy to comply with. Whistling never did Roger Whittaker any harm.
On my day off I go to Keele University to see Senser, an excellent band who have just the right mix of power and technology. In spite of my casual dress, the age difference between me and the audience is impossible not to notice and in one dark moment I fear being mistaken for an undercover CID man. Perhaps this paranoia is down to the fact that George, the landlord at the Wheatsheaf in Stoke where I’d played the night before, has introduced me to draught Guinness topped up with Tia Maria. Not a good idea in retrospect.
Backstage in Leicester, Johnno, who introduces himself to me as the world’s oldest punk, chats with me for a few minutes. He is a keen tattoo man and, hoiking down his trousers, shows me Debbie Harry on one thigh and David Bowie as Aladdin Sane on the other. Well I never.
Recognising the problem. Thrill as our fearless correspondent
at the front finally finds a launderette.
I have always liked attention, for as long as I can remember. My mum tells me – though I have no memory of this – that when I was five I used to knock at my neighbours’ doors and sing songs to them. I was the same age when I saw the film Summer Holiday which made a big impression, seeing Cliff and the Shads jump out of their double-decker bus to play on a beach, surrounded by adoring fans. I knew without question that this was what I wanted to do. What being famous was like didn’t enter my mind until much later.
Having climbed halfway up the ladder of fame and having slipped back down a few rungs, I am not regularly pursued down the streets by folks breathlessly eager to touch the hem of my garments. People generally do not recognise me out of context – though it has happened. On one notable occasion a few years ago, Richard Branson recognised me flying Economy on Virgin back from New York and had me upgraded to First Class. Other responses range from the very welcome “I loved Some Fantastic Place and just can’t understand why it didn’t do more” (quite a popular one recently, that), to the rather more mundane “Aren’t you that bloke in…?”, to the completely deflating “Didn’t you used to be that bloke in…?”
The other day though, in a town that will remain nameless, I found myself making a purchase of a rather delicate and private nature. And to my horror, the assistant recognised me. He had a cassette-player on the floor and from a bunch of tapes he produced a copy of Some Fantastic Place and asked me to sign it. He said he had seen Squeeze last time we were in town and was very keen on us. By now, the other customers (all male) were looking furtively round at me. Feigning a nonchalant air, I signed the tape and chatted on about what we were up to, how I was on a solo tour, where I was playing – to the obvious interest of everybody there. Having your cover blown in a sex shop is definitely not a perk of the job.
Checking into my hotel in Portsmouth this week, I encounter a receptionist for whom everything is too much trouble. I assume she has had a helpfulness bypass operation, a complete contrast to a receptionist in New Orleans who once checked in Squeeze. On the wall of the lobby were the names of some of the members of staff, including the hotel manager, Beau Bumgardener. We fell about laughing hysterically, as only those who have just completed a 700-mile journey can do. The chap behind the desk said very politely, without losing his poise, “I think it’s best you know that I am Mr Bumgardener.” Oh dear.
Giving the hotel a wide berth after the sound check is a relatively easy decision, made more so when Cliff, the manager of the Wedgewood Rooms, where I am playing, recommends the Mexican restaurant down the road. By fabulous coincidence, the nearest place I can park turns out to be directly opposite a launderette offering a night-time service wash facility. My clothes re-cycling policy – getting increasingly sad over the last few days – is at last brought to an end.
Next day in Brighton, things come full circle. I find myself playing only yards from the beach, surrounded by, if not an adoring, then certainly a very enthusiastic crowd. The fact that it’s the evening and I’m indoors in a pub does not diminish my enjoyment. Cliff, I know how you feel.
Contributed by Elizabeth K. Bowles